Monday, October 31, 2011


When 'Abdu'l-Baha was in the West, so the story goes, He was looking over a dance floor with one of His companions. This companion was taken by the beauty of the moment and commented on how happy the dancers looked. "It's too bad", said the Master, "that they're all dead."

(Cue the Halloween music.)

This morning, as I was on my way in to work, I heard a very silly article about zombies, and that, for some twisted reason, reminded me of the above story. Which got me thinking about what I was going to write today. I didn't really have anything in mind, but this one just tickled my funny bone.

Over the years, my wife and I have talked a lot about the idea that all deep-rooted myths in our culture have some very serious significance that we need to learn. One that came up early in our conversations was the idea of the vampire as a symbol of the sexual predator. (And please don't read too much into it that this was the one my wife brought up.)

No, seriously. I mean, think about it. If you show them that you're religious, eeek, they run away. Or if you have bad breath or body odour, say from eating garlic, eeek, they run away. They only prey on their victims at night. And if you happen to fall for one of them, and get into a relationship with someone who is abusive, then you are very likely to either become an abuser yourself, or will generally only find yourself in the victim position. This is, unfortunately, all too common a phenomenon. The one who is abused swears that they will never abuse anyone, and then goes on to do just that, thus perpetuating the cycle.

It also seems to just drain the very life out of you, if you happen to be stuck in a relationship like that.

And how do you get rid of someone who is doing this to you? You basically have to stab them through the heart. I swear, I have never heard anyone so whiny, and crying out in pain, as the abuser who has been kicked out by their victim. They remind me of Paul Reubens (aka Peewee Herman) in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is probably the single most "dramatic" death scene in any film.

Of course, this is the negative version of what 'Abdu'l-Baha meant when He said, "I ask God that I may not repose for a moment, but that, night and day, in the love of the Blessed Beauty -- may my spirit be a sacrifice to Him!  --  I may drink from the rosy cup of the blood of the heart." (You just knew I had to find a way to get that quote in here, didn't you?)

Werewolves? I think of them as a metaphor for bi-polar, or some other illness in which the person swings into a massive depression or anger fit with regular periodicity.

The Mummy? A symbol of those who try to find fulfillment, or immortality, through material means.

And I love them all! They're tons of fun, and a joy to see at this time of year, but they still can teach us something.

Zombies, on the other hand, are a bit more tricky, less obvious. This is due to the dual nature of the word. Originally it referred to the harmless slave-like people that were said to be found in parts of the Caribbean, but this got transformed into the flesh-eating, brain-sucking monsters from the late-60s, and was further refined into the lovable shambling creatures in such games as Plants vs Zombies, a favorite of six-year olds everywhere, if they happen to live in my house.

These later zombies have become a part of our culture, a firmly embedded piece of our mythos, which, to me, means that there is something important about them.

To figure it out, let`s define them first, just to be sure we know what we`re talking about (as if I ever do). They`re fairly mindless, with a single fixation: eating brains. They are relentless in their pursuit of this... delicacy. And they`re contagious. If you suffer a bite from one of them, then, like the vampire, or that other cultural icon, the werewolf, then you become one of them.

Kind of reminds me of peer pressure. Or mob mentality. Or addicitons.

How often has someone been silenced from speaking a truth because those around them disagreed with it? There's a wonderful book for kids called Rooth Sees a Trooth (available through Baha'i distributors everywhere) (I hope), in which the main character is the only one that see from directions, left and right. Others call her mad, in a wonderful Dr Seussian sort of poetry which kids and parents love, and someone wants to "give her a pill" to help her be more normal.

This is also like the sad times when doctors gave people lobotomies when they weren't really necessary.

When we don't just shamble along with the pack, numbing ourselves through various media like television, movies, games, the internet (yes, I include the net here), and so on, then we tend to be shunned by those around us. I don't know how often I've been looked at with almost disdain because I didn't know the latest tv show characters, but I'll tell you, it's far more often than I've been told how good it is that I don't have a tv.

Some people also regularly try to get me to take a drink of alcohol, even though they know I'm Baha'i and don't drink.

It is as if, in all these cases, people want to bring others down to their level of mindlessness. Sad, isn't it? It's like they just want to suck the brain out of my left ear.

But what can you do? You just smile and say, "No thanks." And then you continue about your way.

"Verily, they are dead", to finish off this theme with a quote, "and not living; leave them to the dead and turn thy face to the Reviver of all creatures."

Then knock on the next door, and hope for better treats.


  1. Dear Mead, do you have a source for the story of Abdu'l-Baha and the dancers? Thanks.

  2. It was from a pilgrim's note, but for the life of me, I haven't been able to find it today. It might be from Mahmud's diary, but I'm not sure. I don't actually have a copy of that book yet. (I'll try to cite the source as soon as I find it.)

  3. Dear Mead, your analysis offers considerable insights into what we might simply call "myths" which I take to mean broadly encompassing, metaphorical or allegorical stories that present some inner social process or meaning. At first read, I have to agree with you about the vampire story. One can see parallels in abusive relationships including sexual predators and their prey. I am sure Joseph Campbell would see things in this way too, he being the master of mythology and its proper interpretation. Thanks for this thoughtful post.

  4. Thanks Mead. Mahmud's Diary is online in case that helps:

    Though I haven't been able to find this story you mention there but perhaps you'll have better luck.

  5. Perhaps this is what you were referring to? Or a different version?

    In the evening there was musical entertainment and dancing in the hall of the Inn. `Abdu'l-Bahá said, `Such gatherings and practices are the cause of the corruption of morals.'

  6. Nice try, Anon, but that wasn't the one. I'll be looking into next week, after I finish a craft show with my work.

  7. The mindlessness that comes with alcohol is the same mindlessness that comes from praying and meditation. It's all about killing the ego as you talked about earlier this month.

    So don't be so quick to judge :/

  8. Good morning, Anonymous. I do not believe that mindlessness is the goal of praying and meditation, nor is "killing" the ego. (Suppressing is not the same killing, but that's just my thought.)

    I think that with the alcohol, one is trying to avoid or evade a situation, in the context you refer to. Oh, and please note that I am not condemning anyone for drinking. My dig was rather at those who try to get me to drink after I state that I do not do so. I don't even chastise anyone for being so courteous as to offer me a drink. In fact, I thank them for their generous offer, and politely decline.

    With prayer and meditation, in the context I'm referring to, one is not trying to avoid anything, and most especially not avoid responsibility. They are seeking guidance. And quite often that guidance will lead us to do things that are often quite difficult, such as admit when we were wrong. When I talk about suppressing the ego, it is in an effort to be more detached when looking at ourselves.

    So thank you for raising the point, and allowing me to clarify that fine distinction. I really appreciate it, for I had not seen it in this light before.

  9. I just ran across this article, and very much enjoyed it. Thanks.